The scheme, introduced by the first UPA government in 2005, guaranteesmanual work to every adult in rural India for at least 100 days
The Union government’s efforts to bring succour to the poor, thrown into utter penury after the government announced a national lockdown on March 25, have not been successful if one were to believe the reports emanating from rural India as well as the cities.
As per reports, the guest workers who risked their lives to cover hundreds of miles on foot in order to reach their homes are now planning to go back after finding that there are no means of sustenance in their villages. While one cannot question the commitment of the government, the stark reality is that governmental efforts have not been able to address their immediate concerns.
There are also reports that the schemes to boost the micro, small and medium scale enterprises sector have not yet been able to reach the intended beneficiaries after being caught in the cobweb of governmental and regulatory procedures. While the movement of the files can wait, the urgency of the moment cannot.
It is in this background that there comes the demand of Congress president Sonia Gandhi that the government rework and fast-track the schemes under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to reach monetary aid to the rural poor directly.
The scheme, introduced by the first UPA government in 2005, guarantees unskilled manual work to every adult in rural India for at least 100 days. The projects under the scheme include asset creation in agriculture, irrigation, infrastructure and education. The Congress president has suggested that the government clear the arrears, ensure unemployment allowance and be flexible about the modes of payment to cut delays.
The panchayats be brought to the centre-stage, their capacity to manage public works projects be strengthened and devolution of funds be prioritised, she has said. The skills of the workers must be used to build durable assets that improve farm productivity, increase rural income and conserve the environment.
This is not a BJP versus Congress issue, she has said. According to her, it is a powerful mechanism that can be used to help the people of India in their time of need.
It’s not rare that we see the ruling and Opposition parties coming on the same page while facing a national crisis. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not shared a great opinion about the scheme which he once called “the living monument of the UPA failures”, but to his credit, the government under him has steadily enhanced the budgetary allocation for it. While the total allocation for the scheme in 2014-15 was Rs 37,588 crore, this year’s estimate was Rs 61,000 crores.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said the government will enhance the allocation by about Rs 40,000 crores as part of the Rs 20 lakh crore Aatma Nirbhar Bharat programme. Economists including Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, who had feared for the plight of the poor rendered jobless, have been placing a lot of thrust on the MGNREGA schemes to save the situation.
It will help the economy get back on track, too. It’s now for the government to seize the day, take the scheme forward and bring immediate relief to the people.